Consumers Warned as Ford is First to Offer Hands-Free Driving in Europe

Ford is claiming to be the first automaker to offer hands-free automated driving on European roads with the introduction of its BlueCruise system but there’s a warning from safety experts.

The Level 2 autonomous ADAS has won regulatory approval for use on the motorway network in the UK. This system is already being used in 193,000 Ford and Lincoln vehicles in Canada and the US.

Now, with the greenlight from the UK’s Department for Transport, drivers of enabled Mustang Mach-E models can use “hands-off, eyes-on” driving technology on 2,300 miles of pre-mapped motorways in England, Scotland and Wales, designated as Blue Zones. Ford’s system monitors road markings, speed signs and evolving traffic conditions to control steering, acceleration, braking and lane positioning, as well as to maintain safe and consistent distances to vehicles ahead including down to a halt in traffic. In addition, infrared camera technology inside the cabin checks driver attentiveness. Owners of Ford The system kicking off in the 2023 Mustang Mach-E model is activated via a monthly subscription. Ford expects BlueCruise to be activated in further European countries, as and when regulatory conditions permit, and will roll out the system to further Ford vehicles in the coming years.

Consumer warning

However, the news has received a cautious welcome from UK road safety and technology testing specialist Thatcham Research together with a warning that drivers will not be protected from any liability in the event of a collision while using the system. Its vehicle technology specialist, Tom Leggett, said: “What makes it different, is that for the first time ever drivers will be permitted to take their hands off the wheel. However, their eyes must remain on the road ahead; we call this ‘hands-off, eyes-on’ driving.”

He said that it helps that the system cannot be activated until the driver monitoring system inside the cabin is satisfied that the driver is fully capable of staying alert and able to take back control should the need arise. Leggett points to the fact that BlueCruise’s activation maintains liability in the hands of the consumer and that explains why it is first to market ahead of more advanced automated systems.

He explained: “Although the vehicle can help control speed and position in lane, the driver is still wholly responsible for safety. It’s, therefore, no surprise that Ford and other carmakers are looking to introduce technologies like this ahead of ‘Level 3’ automated lane keeping systems, which have experienced lingering questions around liability especially.

“Because BlueCruise users remain responsible and liable, a lot of the legal and technical complexities of automation and self-driving have been avoided, while still offering drivers a beneficial comfort feature that can reduce fatigue on long, monotonous journeys. We would expect car makers to ensure safe adoption by way of driver education and clear messaging in the vehicle manual and on the dashboard.”

Nonetheless, Ford sees this as a technology first that could lead to a greater uptake of its BEV products. Martin Sander, general manager, Ford Model e, Europe, said: “It’s not every day that you can say you’ve placed one foot in the future but Ford BlueCruise becoming the first hands-free driving system of its kind to receive approval for use in a European country is a significant step forward for our industry. Modern highways can be demanding even for the most confident drivers, and intimidating for many. BlueCruise can do some of the ‘heavy lifting’, to make highway driving less of a chore, and give drivers that little extra confidence and convenience.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in Europe. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *